New customers are the heartbeat of a growing business and ambitious firms are always looking at ways to develop their products and services in order to attract new sales as quickly as possible.
Seemingly ever keen to expand domestically, all too often growing companies fail to make the leap into overseas markets. Whether that’s down to a fear of the challenges and risks, or difficulties with red tape and legislation, there’s no doubt that exporting is a valuable but under-utilised route for businesses looking to expand their customer base.
Last year the North East exported more than £10bn in goods, just slightly less than the amount we imported. Of all of the UK’s regions our trade deficit is smallest, apart from Scotland which has a modest surplus.
While our balance of trade is in relative terms good, the often overlooked truth is that our region has in fact got the lowest percentage of businesses that trade internationally; only 4% or just over 4,250 companies in 2016.
While at first glance this may seem like a negative, especially considering the high proportion of North East exports accounted for by large multinationals, our reputation in areas such as engineering and manufacturing means we have huge, untapped potential in a world where business growth is increasingly linked to global trade.
It will come as no surprise that the North East, along with every other region in England, exports more machinery and transport equipment than any other kind of goods. Much of this can be attributed to big international firms such as Nissan, Hitachi, Caterpillar and Komatsu, but if you scratch the surface you will find that we have a number of home grown success stories selling around the globe.
Northumberland-based Miller UK, for example, started out as a mobile welding service in the late 1970s and now supplies innovative solutions for earth moving and related equipment to the world, selling through both large Original Equipment Manufacturers and its own network of distributers.
Ebac, now famed for being the only washing machine manufacturer in the UK, sells water coolers and dehumidifiers the world over. Having invented the only dehumidifier specifically designed for the UK market, Ebac founder John Elliott launched the company’s export journey when it became the best-selling dehumidifier domestically and he saw its potential in countries with similar climates.
Wessington Cryognenics was founded in the North East in 1984 and produces cryogenic vessels for customers around the globe. It is an example of an exporter with a highly specialised capability, so specialised in fact that overseas clients have included NASA, The European Organization for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN and home of the Large Hadron Collider, and the United States Air Force.
Outside of the world of manufactured goods, a number of entrepreneurial businesses in the North East are fuelling their scale-up ambitions with exports. Gateshead-based Blue Kangaroo Design sells its time to companies as high profile as Disney and Warner Brothers, while TTE Technical Training Group sells training and consultancy in a number of countries to fund its activities in Tees Valley.
Government grant support is available for product development, job and skills development and exporting, you just need to ask. On top of this the Department for International Trade, the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and other business support organisations are ready and willing to help.
The appeal of goods made in Britain is strong right now. Independent research commissioned by Barclays showed that products labelled as ‘Made in Britain’ could demand higher prices when sold abroad compared to those with no specific country of origin.
In a world where making a profit is an increasingly globalised affair, businesses that successfully take advantage of export opportunities and Britain’s reputation for quality will be among those which grow the fastest.